Luke2v36to38: OLD ANNA

(Read the passage.)

(A) Anna was old and disadvantaged but not forgotten

    (a) There were several things that were not in her favour.
      (1) She belonged to one of the less well regarded families. She was of the tribe of Asher.
      (2) She was a women and in those days that meant a person of inferior status and few rights. That is what Prof. W. Barclay writes in his commentary on Luke. I think this can be overdone. Anna was a prophetess after all.
      (3) She was very old, at least 84 years of age. This would certainly count against her today especially as she was always in the temple. She was one of those sad old women who never miss a service in their church. I can recall Simenon writing in one of his Maigret books of a type of very ancient female who never miss a mass.
      (4) Anna had been widowed for over sixty years so doubtless she was poor.

    Anna was the sort of person that church leaders take for granted. She was no longer good-looking or sexy. I am afraid that many Christian men are inclined to take more notice of personable, successful, attractive, young women than the old, poor and ugly.

    (b) She wasn't bitter or sour.
    Some people get very bitter as they age because:

      (1) Life treats them badly. One of the saddest news items in the Daily Telegraph in 2001 was a paragraph about the death of Monica Coghlan. She was the prostitute involved in the Geoffrey Archer scandal fifteen years ago.

      She also had her son, and a cat called Magic. But there was little else in her life, beyond a passion for flowers she grew in her small backyard.
      Even in this she somehow managed to find sadness. A friend recalls: "She once told me that, out of all the men she had known not one of them had ever given her any flowers."

      It was the life she chose. Perhaps, she deserved no better but I feel sorry that she never received any flowers. It embittered her.

      (2) Much is lost with age. I am sixty and still play hockey and cricket. My brother, Philip, tells me that I should be thankful that I have been able to play for so long. I am inclined to feel disgruntled because my powers are waning and I cannot perform as I once did. My mother was very proud of her figure. At 21 she weighed 8stone 7lbs. After giving birth to me she was never the same again. There is so much we lose as we grow older: family, friends, gainful employment, status, health, mental powers. The disappointment at our loss can makes us grumpy.

      (3) They have plenty of time to brood. When I was twenty eight every minute of the day was filled. I was so busy that I had no time to brood. The first six years at work were easily the happiest years of my life. I have more time to mull things over now and it doesn't do me any good. It is a providence that I can work away at this web site!

      Several years ago there was an obituary in my daily paper of a man who had been dismissed from his work for serious misconduct. He was so resentful of what he perceived as an injustice that he changed his name by deed poll to, 'Mr Serious Misconduct'. For thirty years that is the name he went by. Bitterness is so destructive.

    (c) What kept old Anna sweet.
    It wasn't in her nature. She wasn't like a variety of apple that sweetens as it ages. No, she was kept sweet and wholesome because she served the Lord. Lu2v37 She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.

    Isaiah says that he has been called to serve the Lord and that God: made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. Is49v2. I love that expression. The polished arrow is special; it flies swift and true to strike the target. It is possible that an arrow acquires it's polish through much use. The oldest arrow in the quiver can sometimes be the one best suited to achieve God's purpose. Anna and Simeon were old but they were polished arrows concealed in God's quiver.

    (d) God remembered her
    Anna had been praying and fasting for a redeemer for over sixty years. Nothing had happened. She must have wondered sometimes if God was taking any notice of her prayers. God had not forgotten her

    It is good to be remembered. I had a letter from my frail old friend Stanley Knight at Christmas. He closed by writing, 'You are not forgotten, John, and we wish you every blessing in all that you put your hand to'. My brother has just phoned reminding me that I am sixty at the end of the week and asking if I would like to go with him and his family to watch the film, 'Lord of the Rings'. Afterwards I can have a bit of supper with them. That is what cheers the heart.

    If we serve God he does not forget us. It may seem as if he has but he doesn't. One of the great qualities of our Creator is faithfulness. The Israelites in Isaiah's day had been in Babylon for nearly seventy years. Many had been born and died there. They longed to return to their own land, the land of promise. They thought God had forgotten them. God says to Isaiah:

    Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has born.
    Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you.

(B) Anna was devout and rewarded.

Anna was devout in that she:

    (a) Practiced tough spiritual disciplines: fasting and prayer.
    These are difficult exercises because they are:
      (1) Unnatural. It easier to talk to someone you can see and/or hear. It is abnormal to abstain from food when hungry and food is readily available.

      (2) Unappreciated. Fasting and prayer are often secret activities. No-one knows how much these disciplines cost. A huge beech tree grows close to our chapel. It's spreading branches overshadow the chapel. The path leading up to the chapel is never covered in leaves, twigs or beech masts because during the week, when nobody is about, Roy sweeps them up. His efforts are rarely acknowledged because if the path is kept tidy the people who use it don't really notice. They would only notice if he stopped sweeping it. Isn't that how we are? Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about the death of an old peasant woman called Matryona who worked for other people without pay. Her sister-in-law only missed her when there was no one to help plough up the kitchen garden.

      (3) Disparaged. Some ask: what good does prayer and fasting do? They don't put money into your pocket, food into hungry people's mouths or clothes on the backs of the poor. It is a fact that in many churches the prayer meeting is poorly attended. There are types of Christian service that are honoured: preaching, visiting, writing, singing and giving. Last year after giving the address at the School Christmas Concert I had lots of praise and the children were nice to me all day. This year a lady thanked me for my annual letter and said that she looked forward to it as much as the Christmas turkey. Many forms of Christian service are recognised - but not all.

      Matryona was disparaged. I will quote the final paragraphs of Solzhenitsyn's story:

      Misunderstood and rejected by her husband, a stranger to her own family despite her happy, amiable temperament, comical, so foolish that she worked for others for no reward, this woman, who had buried all her six children, had stored up no earthly goods. Nothing but a dirty white goat, a lame cat and a row of fig-plants.

      None of us who lived close to her perceived that she was that one righteous person without whom, as the saying goes, no city can stand.

      Nor the world.

    (b) Practiced regularly
    Anna was dependable. She was always in the temple for the times of prayer. Her presence was taken for granted. She was as much a temple fixture as the thirteen collecting boxes known as the Trumpets in the Court of Women. But she was not overlooked by God anymore than Jesus overlooked that other widow who threw her meagre offering into one of the treasury Trumpets.

    (c) Never stopped
    For over 60 years Anna was steadfast and persevering, praying without ceasing for the redemption of Israel. We should esteem those who serve their churches over a long period. We have in our small fellowship at Brockley two brothers who have served the church for over 60 years. They have given us stability, continuity and a high level of care. We appreciate them. I find it puzzling that ministers find it necessary to move away from their churches on retirement - to give the new man a free hand! Since when has that been a biblical principle? It is just worldly wisdom. The old minister and the new should be gracious enough to co-operate. If they are not, then, it something that they could well learn.

Anna was rewarded:

    (a) She received a blessing because she was always in God's house.
    It was because Anna never missed that she was there when Joseph and Mary brought the babe in to present him to the Lord. As I look back over 2001 I have received many blessings for being often in God's house: a sweet duet by a visiting speaker and his wife; a group of young people singing, 'The Old Rugged Cross', reminding me of my parent's singing it long ago; a united prayer meeting where representatives of four local churches had the spirit of prayer; a stirring sermon when none was expected and a Prayer Book service in a quaint, old, church in rural Wiltshire during which twelve of us sung with gusto, 'Fight the good fight, with all thy might'.

    (b) Her prayers were answered.
    She saw the baby held aloft and heard Simeon say, "For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people". Luke2v30.

    Sometimes God answers prayer quickly. I love the story of Abraham's servant being sent to find a wife for Isaac. This was not a job Eliezer felt qualified for. He prays to God for help. "Oh Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham." However Eliezer was not without wisdom. He continues: "May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink , and I'll water your camels too'- let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac." The account in Gen24 tells us that: Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder........ The girl was very beautiful.

    Sometimes we have to wait. In Is49v8 we read, In the time of my favour I will answer you and in the day of salvation I will help you. The day of salvation had come for Anna. My Grandfather had a mentally disturbed brother in Ipswich Asylum. He prayed for forty years that his sanity would return. Right at the end of his life the elderly brother was at last discharged. He returned to the community, sane. My Grandfather's prayer was answered.

    (c) She saw the Lord.
    Anna saw with her own eyes the one for whom she had been praying, longing, hoping..... She could have sung:

    Blessed Redeemer, full of compassion,
    Great is thy mercy, boundless and free,
    Now in my weakness seeking thy favour,
    Lord I am coming closer to thee.

    There is no greater reward for the Christian than to receive a fresh vision of Jesus. One of the ways we can see Jesus is in the testimony of his followers. It is sweet to hear a Christian speak of the good things Jesus has done for them. It is wonderful when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and we see him in a new light in the Gospel narratives.

(C) Ann never gave up hope and God made her an encouragement to others.

Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic adventurer, was once asked what he considered was the most important quality an explorer needed. Shackleton replied, without much hesitation, "Optimism". Was he right? I think he underestimated physical endurance and know how. Admundsen, who was the first to the South Pole, had both and was successful. But if you are in a tight spot, if you have been trapped for months on end in the ice, if your boat has been crushed in that ice and you have escaped by the skin of your teeth, if you have made land 800 miles from the nearest whaling station and the only way to reach help is to sail those 800 miles in an open boat across the most dangerous ocean in the world - you need optimism, or, as I prefer to put it, hope. Shackleton's health was poor, his know how limited but he was, according to his men, one of the greatest optimists living and unfailingly cheerful. It was his unshakeable hope that motivated his men in the most appalling of circumstances. When all else failed his hope and cheerfulness remained to raise morale and give courage.

Anna's hope made her an encouragement to others:

    (a) She was the leading light, the prophetess, of a small group that looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a fallen city. There had been no word from the Lord for 400 years. The Jewish capital was under Rome's control. Religious life was empty of true devotion. It was ritualistic and legalistic. Anna and her group looked for a redeemer. They hoped for one who would pay the price of Israel's unfaithfulness and restore God's people to his favour.

    If we have a strong hope in Christ's return, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal well being of the righteous we shall be cheerful and able to encourage others. If we meet with those who share our hope we can draw strength from one another. It is of vital importance to meet with like-minded people. Isolated, it is easy to get discouraged.

    (b) Anna met with the Lord and this allowed her to make him real to others.

    I was very privileged one parent's evening. I met Mrs Walker. It was the first and last time she ever came into the school in spite of having three children in attendance during my time there as a teacher. She sat down and said, " After reading Victoria's report I thought I must come and see the teacher who knows my daughter nearly as well as I do." I knew and loved Victoria and so I was able to make her real - even on a school report.

    Do we know and love Jesus well enough to make him real to others and so comfort, cheer and strengthen them.